Ordination Class of 2024: Deacon Gabriel Hanley

This is the third article in a series profiling the 11 men who will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 25, 2024.

CHESTNUT HILL -- Deacon Gabriel Hanley doesn't mind the idea of being a skateboarding priest.

"If I had a board, I could, definitely," Deacon Hanley, a 28-year-old seminarian at Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chestnut Hill, told The Pilot in a Jan. 29 interview. "Why not?"

Deacon Hanley enjoyed skateboarding when he was a teenager, but no longer has time for it as a seminarian. However, he manages to find time for his other childhood hobbies of drawing, singing, and playing the guitar, even with his ordination on the horizon. He's nervous, but also excited as he has grown in his desire to celebrate the Eucharist and forgive sins.

"I do realize there's an enormous responsibility that comes with it, you know," he said, "because you're dealing with people's lives. There's nothing more precious."

Deacon Hanley was born in Framingham. His father is of old Irish stock, and his mother came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 17. He was the fourth of six children, raised in a large and strongly Catholic household where art and music flourished.

"It was certainly lively," Deacon Hanley said. "There was always something going on."

It was his father who was most serious about passing on the faith to him and his siblings.

"He was very much involved in the church, and he was always trying to inculcate into us that faith was the most important thing," he said.

His was the most devout family he knew, and as an adolescent, he was somewhat embarrassed of his father's religiosity. He felt that way until he was 17 and felt called to the priesthood while on a Neocatechumenal Way retreat. There, he saw a video of Kiko Arguello, co-initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way, encouraging young men to join the priesthood.

"Strangely enough, it became very personal," Deacon Hanley said. "I couldn't shake the fact that I felt like he was speaking to me, even though it was a video."

He kept replaying the video in his head, wondering why it felt like Arguello was talking directly to him. He felt a spiritual "restlessness," which continued throughout high school. Looking back, he said he was "in denial" of God's calling. He began praying the rosary and attended confession more often. He was torn between the call to the priesthood and his dreams of going to art school, becoming a graphic designer, and raising a family. He graduated from Framingham High School in 2013 and took a gap year, during which he worked for a handmade stationary company in West Newton. He was mentored by the owner, an artist named Felix Fu, and then spent a semester at the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly.

"I was realizing that though I was pursuing what I thought to be the fulfillment of my dreams," he said, "I wasn't really happy."

He inquired if there was an opportunity for him to go to the Domus Galilaeae, a Neocatechumenal Way retreat house in Israel. There was a spot open, and he took it. While there, he and others worked full-time, taking care of the grounds and cleaning the rooms where pilgrims stayed. Every Sunday, they would visit a different holy site in Israel. After several months, they visited Jordan, where they saw Tishbe, home of the prophet Isaiah. That was where, at around the age of 20, he made the decision to enter the seminary.

"Lord," he remembered saying, "after having been in the Domus Galilaeae for six months or so, and seeing that I was happier doing the will of the Lord, in trusting myself to prayer and the work in front of me, if I can find myself happy doing this, it's evident that you know better than I do."

He joined Redemptoris Mater in 2015, after a retreat in Porto San Giorgio, Italy, a gathering place for the Neocatechumenal Way. He was asked if he was willing to attend a seminary anywhere in the world. He was, and the seminary he was assigned to ended up being the one in his own backyard. He was a bit surprised, having expected to be sent to a far-flung locale with a new language and culture.

"But God had it in his design to have me here," he said, "and to discover that every part about me has been shaped for mission here."

For instance, he said, his Irish and Hispanic heritage allows him to connect to many people in the Boston area.

Deacon Hanley describes his path to the priesthood as "a time of sanctification." He said that he has "grown immensely" since entering the seminary, particularly growing to understand that his parents were trying to give him "the most important thing in life" -- faith.

"A vocation is God's way to bring me to Heaven, but it's also the way to heal," he said. "To heal those things that I didn't understand."

As a priest, he wants to "point the way to Christ" and help people realize that following Christ is what brings true happiness.

"When you follow Christ," he said, "everything starts to make sense. Every aspect of your life begins to make sense."

In 2023, he was ordained to the transitional diaconate. He now serves at Immaculate Conception Parish in Marlborough, where his father works in faith formation. This, Deacon Hanley said, has allowed both men to strengthen their bond with one another.

"It's through the vocation that he's come to heal that kind of relationship," he said, "and to help me grow in gratitude and appreciation for what I was being given."